All Hallows’ Read is fast approaching. If you’re wondering what scary book you should be giving to family, friends, and random folks on the street, all of us at The Hog’s Head agree that Harry Potter would be a great choice. What better time than All Hallows’ Read to give someone a book about witches and wizards battling scary stuff?
Ah, but which one though? Which Harry Potter book is the scariest, creepiest, shiveriest, flesh-crawlingest, heebie-jeebiest one of them all? And here, all of us at The Hog’s Head can’t agree at all! Or hardly. We’ve each got a favourite shiver, a most prized behind-the-sofa moment, a top candidate for the jibblies from our own most feared book, and we’ve all got suitably chilling reasons why.
So over the next week, we’re going to take turns trying to convince you that each of the seven books is the absolute scariest. And we’ll be recommending other stories you might like that pack a similar scare to each of the books.
It makes sense to give the first word, though, to J. K. Rowling—and makes even more sense when she’s declaring for the first book. That’s right: Aunt Jo herself thinks that Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone is still the scariest of the series. In a 2006 interview with Richard and Judy, answering a question about whether she’d always intended the series to get darker as it went along, Rowling said:
I did intend it all along, because as Harry grows up, these p—parallel things are happening aren’t they? Harry’s getting older and older and more and more skilled, and simultaneously Voldemort’s getting more and more powerful and he’s returning to a, you know, physical form, because of course of—in the first book he’s not even a physical entity, really. But ha—but I’ve always said when people have said that to me, and I agree that the books have got a lot d—darker, the imagery in the first book where Voldemort appears in the—in the back of Quirrell’s head, I still think is one of the creepiest things I’ve ever written. I—I really do. And s—and also the image of the, um, the cloaked figure drinking the unicorn blood, this thing slithering across the ground—which they did very well in the, in the film of, um, Philosopher’s Stone. I think those are very macabre images. So I don’t think that you could say that in—from the first book I wasn’t setting out my stall, really. I was saying that this is a world where some pretty nasty things can happen.*
She has a point. It’s a truly frightening moment, grotesque and menacing. And when we got to Book 2, it sure kept us jumpy and eager for the next big fright. Which, it turned out, wasn’t long in coming.
Now, if you enjoy the sort of fright you get from Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone, or just generally enjoy stories about boy wizards at school, then you need to stop whatever you’re doing and go read Charmed Life, written by Diana Wynne Jones and published twenty years before Harry Potter. It’s a story about a boy named Christopher Chant, and how he starts to learn to use magic. It’s sure got its All-Hallows’-Read-worthy frights in, with unspeakable things flobbering on the window and terrible little shapes crawling out of the fire. But it’s also got talking wine bottles and magic mirrors and a frazzled schoolmaster and an evil twin sister and a cryptic oracle and, best of all, Chrestomanci himself. And believe me, once you’ve met Chrestomanci, you’ll want to read a lot more stories with him in—so it’s a good thing that Charmed Life, too, is the first book in a series.